The good news, according to Armanda Mason, infection prevention specialist at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, is that Oregon is doing better than most of the nation regarding reported cases of the flu.
The bad news: Oregonians are still getting sick.
While there isn’t specific data on flu cases in Hood River County — occurrences of flu are only reported in three Oregon counties, most in the Portland Metro area, said Ellen Larsen, Hood River County Health Department director — the flu is still very active statewide, including in Hood River and Cascade Locks.
With the early onset of the flu this year, Larsen said it will be hard to predict when it might end.
As with many diseases, she said those at highest risk are the young and the elderly, and those who have decreased immune responses.
The most important thing you can do if you suspect you have the flu, said Constance Serra, M.D., One Community Health, is to stay home to stop the spread of the virus.
Beyond that, she suggests keeping hydrated and using over the counter cough and cold medications, never exceeding the recommended dosing instructions on the package.
“Even though most cough and cold medications are safe, they can be harmful if taking too much,” she said.
It’s also not too late to get a flu shot. Serra said that the immunization rate nationally is between 25-55 percent; Hood River County comes in at 44 percent.
“It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body to protect against the flu,” Serra said. “It is ideal to get the flu shot at the beginning of the flu season. However, because we are still at the peak of flu season, I would highly recommend getting your flu shot as soon as possible if you have not had one.”
She said that, since humans have very little defense against the flu, immunizations are one of the best defenses we have. Washing hands and avoiding sick contacts are also recommended.
“Other ways to prevent the flu is to stay healthy, eat healthy, and get proper rest and sleep,” she said. “This will help keep your immune system strong.
“Drinking alcohol, increased stress and the lack of sleep and a healthy diet can all increase your risk of getting sick with any virus,” she added.
Jonathan Kukier, M.D, Providence Hood River Internal Medicine Clinic, agrees that it is not too late to get a flu shot.
“The flu shot this year is not highly effective, but provides some immunity and may still reduce your chance of contracting the virus,” he said. “If you do catch the flu, the shot may make it less severe.”
Flu symptoms include high fever, muscle aches, cough and feeling poorly. “It’s not just a cold, and the difference in severity will be noticeable,” Kukier said.
He recommends contacting your health provider as soon as possible, as antivirals may lessen the course of the illness.
Larsen said one of the best ways to help stop the spread of flu is frequent handwashing.
“Flu virus can live for up to 24 hours on hard surfaces, and we don’t know the health of the person that touched something before we touch it,” said Larsen.
Mason also recommends handwashing, as well as avoiding contact with others who are sick and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
To date, there have been no medical examiner cases reporting flu deaths in Hood River County, Larsen said, and she was unaware of any pediatric flu deaths in the state.
“For the elderly, it can be a bit harder to determine if (it is) flu and to what degree flu might be a contributing factor,” she said.
For details: visit the Oregon Health Authority website at oregon.gov/oha/ pages/index.aspx.